Given the various crises besetting the UK, the seemingly inevitable passing of power from Boris Johnson to Liz Truss calls to mind that old political saying: out of the frying pan, into the heat death of the universe. The progression between the previous three prime ministers has shown us the timeline can always get worse. The country is basically trapped in that scene in Toy Story 3 where the toys escape the shredder only to find themselves heading towards the incinerator. Unfortunately, the grabber claw is not going to save us.
You may keep hearing Truss supporters say: “You underestimate Liz at your peril.” But the UK is already in grave peril, so … I’ll take that bet. Presumably I’ll be permitted to collect on it in a couple of years, if not in cash, then certainly in some form of subsistence bartering in District 11 of the sunlit uplands.
For now, Truss maintains the remorselessly upbeat demeanour of a holiday rep who regards herself as the life and soul of the booze cruise, and whose lower back is tattooed with the Chinese symbols for “Only depressing people get depressed”. The overwhelming vibe you get from her campaign appearances is that she is going to make destitution fun for people. The logic puts me in mind of the Depression-era dancehall marathons epitomised in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, where desperate competitors are given the opportunity to twirl, then lurch, then stagger their way out of poverty. Or to death – whichever comes sooner.
The fact that Liz will take over a country whose own sewage is literally lapping at its shores feels too on the nose – an image so hammily overdone it could have been crafted by recidivist newspaper columnist Boris Johnson. Which, in a more literal way, I suppose it was. We’re both the sick man of Europe and the dirty protest of Europe. Johnson – who wouldn’t dream of swimming in his own excrement, either literally or metaphorically – is currently on his second foreign holiday in a fortnight, displacing whole hogsheads of the Aegean in the cause of not giving a toss about what happens to the country he let down in the way he has always let everyone down in the end. Back home, consumer confidence has just hit a record low. One expert in charge of monitoring it declared on Thursday: “These findings point to a sense of capitulation, of financial events moving far beyond the control of ordinary people.”
Does anyone truly believe they will be within the control of Liz Truss, whose weathervaning and largely underachieving career thus far has marked her out as a very ordinary politician indeed? Her political philosophy appears to consist of only two immutable tenets: that tax cuts are the answer to everything, and that British workers are incredibly lazy.
Despite being a message somewhat questionably suited to the times, this has apparently caused a twitch in the phantom loins of the 0.42% of British voters who will be deciding the next prime minister. With just the two weeks left to run in a leadership contest that has been going on since sometime in the early Mesozoic period, Truss remains an absolute mine of withheld information. She tells every Tory member hustings all about her “day one” tax cuts, but precisely nothing about how the state will be shrunk to pay for them. Hers is a campaign in which reality is treated like a non-member at the club, whose unauthorised incursion into the 19th hole will be put down with putters and sand wedges, pour encourager les autres.
Still, it’ll be interesting watching Liz try to give a pep talk to gravity. It emerged on Thursday that the Office for Budget Responsibility is to update its forecast of Britain’s public finances next month, stating that government borrowing will increase as a result of high inflation and a widely predicted recession. This halves the £30bn of fiscal headroom that Truss claims will pay for her tax cuts, which leaves us officially in yawning black hole territory.
Of course, we’ve spent a lot of this leadership context hearing from Liz that a recession is not even inevitable. So just assume that she’ll take the keys to No 10, like the idealistic heroine in a horror movie who buys her dream fixer-upper in Upstate Somewhere, and has barely got her whitewash out before a series of terrifyingly grotesque and inexplicable events begin to unfold.
You might be wondering how much worse our standard of government could actually get, given that we ceded control of the country to a newspaper columnist for almost three years. And in many ways you’d be right. It’s actually quite difficult to find people who are more wrong on a regular basis than newspaper columnists – but it’s possible that economists do edge it. Patrick Minford certainly does.
The Cardiff university professor so admired by Truss is one of Britain’s leading wrong people – tough field – having forecast such fantasies as Brexit boosting Britain’s GDP by almost 7% and significantly reducing consumer prices for British people, to say nothing of his giving the zealot’s shrug over the potential self-imposed destruction of the country’s car industry. “These things happen as evolution takes place in your economy,” Minford breezed to a parliamentary committee back in 2012. As for who’ll be joining Patrick in executive Loon Town, there are persistent rumours that Truss plans to exhume Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood to give them operational roles.
So that’s the lie of the land, two weeks out from an expected Truss premiership. There will be those of you feeling pessimism is the rational response, and it’s hard to disagree. I think we used to produce hope, but as part of some efficiency drive or other we have run down the industry and allowed other nations to corner the market in it. Ah well. As Team Liz will soon be explaining: these things happen.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
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Marina Hyde will be in conversation with Richard Osman at a Guardian Live event in London on 11 October. Join them in person or via the livestream – book tickets via the Guardian Live website